Scone cyclist gears up for Etape Caledonia after pledge to get fit with friend following life debilitating illness

Two friends from Perthshire have signed up for this year's Etape Caledonia after falling in love with cycling and its physical and mental health benefits.

Scone residents, Lesley Sharkey, 41, and Tia Dixon, 47, who both work for the NHS, pledged to take up cycling together a few years ago in a bid to get fit after discussing their lack of exercise when picking up their children at the school gates. Now, three years later, the ladies are taking on one of the UK's most competitive closed-roads sportives. 

Lesley, a Family Nurse Partnership Supervisor at PRI and Ninewells, was looking for a sport to help improve her fitness after enduring major back surgery to alleviate a spinal fusion. "The actual operation was nine years ago and, since then, I felt my fitness levels had dropped," she explained. "I wanted to find something that was fairly low impact but also got me outdoors seeing the countryside. Running wasn't really an option after my operation, so I needed something that offered enough of a cardio workout without grinding my back too much."

Since taking up cycling Lesley has found her back to be in much better shape. She said: "It's common for people who have had fused bones in the spine to suffer from pain post-op, but I have not had any pain. I think that is a lot to do with my improved fitness levels through cycling."

When Tia, a Clinical & Professional Team Manager at Murray Royal Hospital, suggested cycling, they both decided to get out on the roads together. "The idea is that we keep each other motivated," said Tia. "The first few rides were fairly short distances. I remember we cycled to Perth airport and back and were completely exhausted - and that wasn't very far at all."

Like Lesley, Tia wasn't feeling particularly fit or healthy and wanted to find a form of exercise that was fun and suited her. "I think you get into your forties and to a point where you have to decide if middle age is arriving or has already arrived," Tia added. "I'm not naturally sporty and running was becoming more difficult. Cycling is a bit kinder to your body and felt quickly like the right fit."

Soon the friends caught the biking bug and were out cycling frequently and building up their pedal power. "It would have been easy for us to find excuses not to do it in the early days", Tia said. "Our rides were - and still can be - very weather dependent. Gradually we started to notice our strength building and soon we were out on our bikes three or four times a week."  

As well as the obvious physical benefits, Lesley in particular has seen how cycling can improve mental wellbeing as well. "As a wife and mum of two running a house, as well as a full-time job, it can be difficult to find time for me. It's great being outdoors for the prolonged periods that cycling requires as it gives me time to reflect and just time for myself. Cycling has definitely given me that opportunity to have some headspace."

Now, with just under three months until Etape Caledonia, the training has begun in earnest for the determined duo. "In the winter months, we went to spinning classes and swimming to try and keep our fitness levels up", Tia explained. "I find spinning quite boring so I'm pleased the weather's getting better and we can get out on the roads again and build up to the event gradually over the next few months."

Having participated in a few cycling sportives already, including Macmillan Cycletta and the Tayside Challenge in recent years, Tia and Lesley are excited about taking their cycling to a new level. "It's a different type of push for an event like Etape Caledonia", Lesley added. "We'll make sure we're ready, but we're looking forward to taking on the challenge and soaking up the atmosphere. There's always a great sense of community spirit and camaraderie amongst cyclists and we're looking forward to experiencing that at Etape Caledonia."

The Etape Caledonia was the UK's first and original closed-roads event when it was launched in 2007. Limelight is encouraging past participants to get back in the saddle on May 19 to pedal Perthshire on an 85-mile closed road circuit that takes in some of Scotland's most stunning landscapes. A shorter 40-mile route option is also available.

Team Marie Curie charity places start at £24.99 for a 40 mile place (£150 minimum sponsorship); 85 mile pledge place - £59.99 registration fee, £350 minimum sponsorship; 85 mile Gold Bond option, includes premium benefits - £59.99 registration fee and £650 minimum.

Participants wishing to register for Etape Caledonia and raise money for Marie Curie should visit www.etapecaledonia.co.uk



Image: L—R: Tia Dixon and Lesley Sharkey

Abigail Shepherd